Political Economy of Socialist Realism Evgeny Dobrenko, Jesse M. Savage

Publication date:
16 Oct 2007
Yale University Press
408 pages: 235 x 156 x 30mm
Sales territories:
World excluding Russia


For decades Stalinist literature, film, and art was almost exclusively deemed political propaganda imposed from on high, devoid of any aesthetic significance. In this book, Evgeny Dobrenko suggests an entirely new view: socialism did not produce Socialist Realism to “prettify reality”; rather, Socialist Realism itself produced socialism by elevating socialism to reality status, giving it material form. Without art, socialism could not have materialized.


Bringing together the Soviet historical experience and Stalin-era art—novels, films, poems, songs, painting, photography, architecture, and advertising—Dobrenko examines Stalinism’s representational strategies and demonstrates how real socialism was begotten of Socialist Realism. Socialist Realism, he concludes, was Stalinism’s most  effective sociopolitical institution. 


"Dobrenko is a master interpreter of Socialist Realism. He explores the functionality of the Leninist-Stalinist cultural project with verve and imagination. Those who study Soviet art, literature, film, photography, history, and much else will be hard put to find a better guide. The book is a pleasure to read."—Jeffrey Brooks, author of Thank You, Comrade Stalin! Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to Cold War

"Unsurpassed in its grasp of Stalinism and Stalinist culture, Dobrenko's new book makes the convincing theoretical move of turning the categories of Stalinist thought against Stalinist cultural production. Rigorous in interpretation and research, challenging and persuasive."—William Mills Todd III, Harvard University

“This book by an internationally celebrated scholar of Soviet culture offers a uniquely rich and convincing account of how Socialist Realism was the pre-determining force in Stalinist discourse, shaping biological sciences and ‘scientific Communism’ as well as glossy magazines, official histories, narrative films, public exhibitions, and advertising. The eccentricities and paradoxes of a country where, as Dobrenko puts it, there was ‘a single need. The need to provide the spectacle of socialism,’ are everywhere on view. This fascinating study will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in Russian culture from the 1930s onwards.”—Catriona Kelly, University of Oxford


“Evgeny Dobrenko has written the most sweeping, theoretically-informed book to-date on Socialist Realism and its centrality to the Stalinist project. He presents a chilling analysis of Socialist Realism as a discourse of repression. From photojournalism, to cinema, to biology, to advertising and Stalin’s speeches, Dobrenko shows how Socialist Realism produced socialism by aestheticizing and ‘de-realizing’ life. I have never seen a more convincing indictment of art’s centrality in Soviet terror. ”—Eric Naiman, University of California, Berkeley